After 5 delays, Embassy Suites construction is set to begin on June 30
City will present options for 4th St. West Bridge & Windmill Rd. pedestrian safety
By John Mullen
The long-awaited partnership between Gulf Shores and Embassy Suites is finally moving forward after DD Partners paid its final $200,000. A preliminary site plan was expected to be approved from the Planning Commission on Jan. 25.
“We do know that they’ve paid all their monies necessary to move forward,” said
city spokesman Grant Brown. “They’ve gone nonrefundable now on $400,000 of commitment to the city. They’ve now got their timeline started and they’ve got to start construction by June 30.”
Start and completion dates for the project were moved five times because of investors nervous about COVID-19 and buying into a hotel with 11,000 square foot in meeting space. DD Partners had until Dec. 31 to commit to the project or pull out and get back $200,000 already given to the city.
When that deadline passed the developer had until Jan. 15 to give up another $200,000 for the $400,000 total.
In May of 2019, the first agreed-upon start date of July 1 was changed to Jan. 1, with an eye on opening on March 1 of 2022. On Dec. 2, 2019, the council voted again for a delay with the developers eyeing a July 2020 start date. During that Oct. 26, 2020 meeting, the council extended the deadline for starting work to April 30, 2021.
The new commencement date is June 30 with the completion target date Sept. 30, 2024.
Brown said the appearance before the Planning Commission is a typical site plan review like for any new buildings in Gulf Shores. They will review it and send a recommendation to the city council which will also review the site plan.
Original flyers on the meeting said the planning commission meeting and Feb. 14 council meeting would be in the Erie Meyer Civic Center but all city meetings were moved back into council chambers after meeting in the larger space due to COVID-19 concerns.
Between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach there are more than 17,000 vacation rental accommodations from condos, to beach houses and hotels. The new Embassy Suites will add about 254 rooms to that inventory in addition to a 7,800-square-foot ballroom.
During one of the extensions the project was scaled down somewhat but kept the 11,000 square feet of meeting space including the 7,800-square-foot ballroom from the original design.
Gulf Shores offered a tax incentive to the developers to recoup money from the extra cost of including the meeting space in the original design. The city will give Embassy Suites a tax rebate of 42 percent during the first three years of operation and 35 percent every year following until $6.5 million is reached, the basic cost of including the meeting space in the plan.
Changes at the time included lowering the building from 10 stories to eight and making the outside pool area originally planning for the roof from about 23,000 square feet down to 10,000 square feet. Scaling that back allowed for an increase in the total rooms from 229 to 254. Gulf Shores Planning Commission agenda is packed with new housing projects as well as the Embassy Suites site plan.
West Fourth Street Bridge
The city is making plans to get citizen input on what can be done with the closed West Fourth Street Bridge and increasing pedestrian and bicycle safety on Wind Mill Ridge Road.
“In 2020, the city hired Skipper Consulting, a transportation engineering firm, to evaluate both existing and proposed traffic and pedestrian needs for West Fourth Street and Windmill Ridge Road,” Brown said. “Skipper has provided the city with multiple recommendations and options that are currently being professionally rendered, so they can be presented at a future public involvement meeting to garner citizen input. Two of the primary topics will be the future plans for the West Fourth Street Bridge and improving pedestrian safety on Windmill Ridge Road. We plan to host the public involvement meeting in the first quarter of 2022.”
City Engineer Mark Acreman said he and Community Development Director Lee Jones and Skipper personnel are reviewing those results to gather material to present at the public meeting.
“We’ve been kind of compiling that information and getting the renderings prepared to present in a public forum to get input from the community,” Acreman said at the Jan. 10 council meeting. “We’re close to being finished with that product we hope. Within the next 60 days or so we’ll be able to schedule a public involvement meeting to get the citizen input on that bridge as well as Windmill Ridge Road and the improvements we plan for it in the near future.”
Brown said there are many options on the table and the city will present these to the public after all are evaluated and the concepts placed on paper.
“The pedestrian access, of course, is important but if this is something that becomes a vehicular bridge again or not those are the type of things, we’ve got to take a look at and then gauge the public to have input,” Brown said. “We don’t want the public to think that we’re moving forward one direction or the other without them having an opportunity to tell their side of the story.”
In 2014, the city paid Lucido Engineering $26,500 to redesign the West Fourth Street Bridge and the same resolution accepted a grant from the Alabama Department of Transportation for the replacement of the bridge through the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program. It was later discovered the bridge was a few feet longer than eligibility requirements for receiving the grant and the plan was scuttled.
Since that time the bridge has been closed to vehicular traffic and the city has discussed rehabilitating the bridge for other public use including adding a pocket park in the area.
During the session, the council:
• Voted to make its annual $17,500 donation to the Safe Harbor Animal Coalition for supplies at the group’s surgical facility on County Road 12. The group operates a trap, neuter, return program for unowned cats in Gulf Shores that neuters feral felines caught in the city. The group has similar operations in Orange Beach and Foley.
• Approved a liquor license for Bywater Beachside operating a restaurant on the Gulf State Park Pier after a public hearing
• Approved a contract with EMS Billing Services to handle billing for the city’s new ambulance service.
• Approved an assembly permit for the Sweetheart Half Marathon, 5K and one-mile runs on Feb. 12.
• Donated the hammer and disc cage from the Sportsplex to Elberta High School. The track and field equipment was damaged in Hurricane Sally.